An Interview with Tennessee Loveless
By Deven Green
Images by Tennessee Loveless including self-portrait
Tennessee, as a color-blind artist, you were told NOT to pursue this field by your art teacher. Why did you do it anyway?
I was used to being told, ‘you can’t be that’ over elements that were intrinsically a part of me. Whether it was about my severe learning disabilities, my obvious queer nature, or my colorblindness, all of these things were parts of me that I couldn’t help. I was born with these traits as much as I was born an artist, so the path was clear to me, even if it was opposed by others.
You had many other topics to choose from so, what compelled you to start out using drag queens and celebrities as your muses?
When I first started painting, I focused on elements of familiarity. I was raised by drag queens in my budding gay youth out in Athens, GA, in the ’90s. They were family to me in a world where I felt so out of place for being so eccentric and undeniably queer. They were teachers to me as well, and I learned a great deal about the reality of being visibly queer in the arts. It’s because of this that they were naturally my first subjects of work. I painted celebrities for the same reason in regards to familiarity. Growing up Catholic, I had a hard time separating saints from celebrities because they were both figures we worshiped on a pedestal but never met in real life.
How does being gay enhance your art?
Understanding our identity and where it belongs in the art world is a struggle that I never had to face. While coming out in the south in the ’90s came with some terrifying consequences, it was incredibly liberating to understand my identity and where my voice belonged in the world. I am extremely proud of being a queer artist.
You showcased 100 Mickey Mouse silhouettes. What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that being a painter and being an artist were two entirely different things. Painting is a skill that can be taught, but being an artist requires an ability of fusing your individualistic imagination into the whole process. While I was known for painting geometric pop using the pigment indexing system to substitute my color-blind vision, this was just a skill. The real artist part was when I tied my imagination into the pieces and created that insanely raw sketchwave aesthetic that was so emotionally driven.
How has music influenced your art, especially since you are a true audiophile?
Music has always been tied to my work in some way or another. I grew up playing and composing music on the piano for most of my life. I, however, wasn’t very good, but I’ve always said, “Those who can’t create, CURATE,” and I’ve been happy doing that instead. For about 13 years now, I’ve been running a podcast called “The Beautiful Noise Broadcast,” which people seem to like a lot.
Have you created a Dorian Gray image?
Yes, and I have to slather Oil of Olay on it every day, or I’ll explode into flames.
The words you have chosen to include in your art will be dissected for years to come. Give us a primer.
Transparency and storytelling are the two main parts to my work. I strive to make every portrait a biography so that the viewer is engaged with not just the painting, but the person itself. I believe we are all walking books filled with stories that have the power to engage and educate one another on such a personal level, and I strive to make my work do that. Especially when it comes to the drag pieces. We are far more than what television tells us about one another.
Tennessee, where is your next exhibit, and how may we possess your incredible art?